12:00 BST, Friday 1st June, NV Arena (Sankt Polten, Austria)
Bert van Marwijk’s Australia side take on the Czech Republic as the Dutchman prepares for his second World Cup finals, having guided his native Netherlands to the final back in 2010.
Despite being unconvincing throughout their mammoth 22-match qualifying process, van Marwijk will be hoping that his pragmatic approach can improve the team’s prospects in Russia, having only replaced Ange Postecoglou after the qualifying process, after departing fellow qualifiers Saudi Arabia himself after their successful campaign.
As for the Czech Republic, manager Karel Jarolim is being given another chance, after coming third in their qualification group behind Germany and Northern Ireland.
Jarolim has picked an inexperienced squad for this friendly with only Vladimir Darida and Theodor Gebre Selassie boasting more than 40 caps.
This youthful squad will be looking to build towards their Nations League campaign which kicks off in the Autumn against Ukraine.
Van Marwijk prefers a solid rigid 4-2-3-1 formation to the 3-4-2-1 of the Postecoglou reign.
Expect to see Mile Jedinak in Russia, but having played for Villa at Wembley on Saturday, fellow Championship midfielder Massimo Luongo is likely to partner Aaron Mooy in the engine room.
Matt Jurman is van Marwijk’s preferred left-sided centre-back, despite only having four caps at the age of 28. He will likely partner Jiangsu Suning man Trent Sainsbury at the back.
Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse will provide the pace and trickery on the flanks.
Czech Republic Lineup
Karel Jarolim has used three different formations in the friendlies since their failure to qualify for Russia 2018, including 4-4-2.
This isn’t a golden generation of Czech players, but Jarolim will be keen to fit forwards Matej Vydra and Patrik Schick into the same side, despite Schick not having the best season at Roma.
Expect Darida, Suchy and Gebre Selassie to add experience to what could be a very youthful side.
Key Players: Aaron Mooy (Australia) vs Vladimir Darida (Czech Republic)
The midfield battle could key in this game, with experienced Hertha Berlin midfielder Vladimir Darida likely to line up alongside Soucek.
Whether they can get the better of Australia’s Luongo – Mooy partnership is a big ask.
Mooy has had a good debut season in the Premier League with Huddersfield and will relish the opportunity to finally represent the Socceroos at a World Cup, having missed out on the 2010 and 2014 squads.
Will Van Marwijk’s Socceroos be able to break sides down?
Van Marwijk’s Netherlands side were characterised by their pragmatic physical approach, relying on players like Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart to provide a bit of magic. Without that star quality, will they be able to score goals against better quality opposition?
Mathew Leckie has the pace to stretch teams, and in Luongo and Mooy they have players technically good enough to pass through some teams.
Will Tim Cahill actually feature in Russia?
It seems remarkable that Tim Cahill is still in the Australia squad at the age of 38.
This is a squad that lacks the talent going forward of the likes of Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka. However, you have to wonder if Cahill is still good enough or fit enough for this level, having hardly featured for Millwall since returning to The Den in January.
If he can feature and play well against the Czech Republic then perhaps he is capable of forcing his way into Van Marwijk’s side.
How will Australia cope without Mile Jedinak?
Captain Mile Jedinak is likely to miss out on this game, having played for Aston Villa last week in the Championship playoff final on Saturday, meaning that Luongo and Mooy are likely to fill the midfield.
With Jedinak turning 34 later this summer, the Luongo – Mooy partnership could be a staple of Australia’s next campaign, so it will be interesting to see how they get on.
Prediction: Australia 1-0 Czech Republic
Neither side are particularly exciting going forward, but the Australian’s extra motivation and intensity could provide the key difference here.
The Czech Republic are inexperienced and may psychologically not be as focused as their Aussie counterparts.
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